The evolution of Ed Miliband’s Labour Party continues today with a letter in the Observer from candidates demanding that the party renationalizes the railways to lower the fares. It would be popular in commuter towns, they say – no wonder, as this would pass the costs from commuters to the general taxpayer. When challenged about it on this morning’s Andrew Marr show, Miliband didn’t rule it out. ‘We’re looking at all the options,’ he said. His only concession was that he is ‘not going back to old-style British Rail,’ – he plans a new form of state intervention.
Miliband then went on to accuse Cameron of being a ‘cheerleader’ for the Pfizer’s proposed takeover of AstraZeneca and said that he’d set up an independent inquiry to see if the government should stop shareholders selling to Pfeizer. Yet again, his instinct is to interfere.
Time and time again, we see that Ed Miliband’s plans for government tend not to involve government. They tend to involve edicts that he’d issue to those not in government. Landlords, power companies, moneylenders – and, today, supermarkets. The Mail on Sunday has got hold of Andy Burnham’s health agenda, which is says has been approved by Miliband, where he’d ‘outlaw cheap drink’ via minimum alcohol pricing, and get ride of those Frosties (they’rrrrre verboten) because they’re too sugary. Then tell supermarkets which shelves they should use to display the drink they sell.
When Marr asked him why he wants to boss about businesses so much, he was unapologetic – he said he wanted ‘markets working in the public interest’. In other words: markets (i.e., people) working along the lines dictated by Miliband’s government. The very notion of commercial freedom seems to worry him. He sees problems even where they don’t exist. ‘I am going to stand up for the generation that rents in this country because our rental market doesn’t work,’ he said. Really? The same rental market that has seen rents fall, even in London, in real terms? As I argued in the Daily Telegraph on Friday there is not a problem with rent prices, down about 15pc in real terms since 2005. Yet Miliband proposes sweeping powers of government intervention nonetheless.
The Sunday Telegraph asks eight of its writers who they think will win the next general election. I still think that Miliband is (narrowly) more likely. Yes, his opinion poll lead has now narrowed to one vulnerable point, according to an ICM poll for the newspaper today. But that’s all Labour needs for a majority. Half of Liberal Democrat voters are now with Labour (as the party itself becomes a southern phenomenon) and right now the election is Labour’s to lose. That’s why we should take its rail and health plans seriously: we’re a year and a week away from an election that could bring to Britain what Francoise Hollande has brought to France.
UPDATE: I had the honour of being on the Marr sofa this morning, and was thankfully not asked back at the end where guests have to decide whether to nod their head, tap their feet or sit frozen while a band plays the show out. Both Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage chose the latter option. But afterwards, Red Ed came to join everyone for breakfast and sat next to Farage. Chatted away quite the thing. I was there as a guest so I shan’t say any more, but it reminded me of one thing.
Gordon Brown’s personal behaviour, his rudeness and misanthropy were notorious. Miliband’s personal decency and integrity is a defining characteristic, evident on and off screen. You can say, as I do, that he’s wrong about everything – and dangerously so. But it is hard, pretty much impossible, to say that he’s malign or not in politics for the right reasons. That will be to Labour’s advantage when the campaign starts.
UPDATE2: Here’s me reviewing the papers with Shami Chakrabarti (she of the Rod Liddle column fame)